Choosing a name for a small business

Banking District
Image by bsterling via Flickr

What’s in a name? I like to be able to relate to a business. I like to get a feeling for what it stands for and for the person behind it. I like any business to which I might give my custom to have a name which is easily remembered and which will slip of the tongue easily.

Now, please don’t think I am getting at anybody, but names such as VXI Tree Surgeons or JKT Property Services I am unlikely to remember. Initials which stand for an established brand are easier to recall, but that is because we know what they stand for. Love it or hate it we know what to expect from KFC.

I think big companies do get this wrong too. There is a very large bank called HSBC. It used not to be its name of course, but it started using those initials when it bought the Midland Bank and moved into domestic banking in the UK. I started my working life with HSBC, but in those days it was called the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. Of course for internal memos we used the initials HSBC, but we introduced ourselves as working for the Hongkong Bank. Incidentally, please note that Hongkong was always one word for the Bank, whereas spelling the dependency and now Chinese province was always two words. People might have been put off banking with an organisation from a a place which used to be known for making cheap plastic toys, of course, so I think something like Great Eastern Bank would have rolled off the tongue a lot better. Both Hong Kong and the bank have a far more illustrious history than cheap toys and I guess it was association that put them off, but a trick was missed I think. Still the holding company could still have been called Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation.

Anyway, rather than initials, proper names are important because they make businesses seem less faceless. Caspers Accountants is much better than C & S Accountants (I don’t know a Caspers who are accountants; I made it up) and it is easier to say Caspers than C & S when giving a recommendation. It is highly likely someone will forget a couple of initials within thirty seconds so any recommendation might be in vain.

Another pitfall in a business name is using a town or district. A name like Assington Plumbing (Assington is a village in Suffolk) might suggest to a prospective customer that they don’t travel and are not worth phoning. It’s just bad psychology in my view.

I think a small business should have a person’s name in it if it is a service business, and a shop should either have a name or a title which says exactly what it does, such as Smith’s Ironmongers. Only have a place or area if that is exactly the area you service. So Southend Logistics is a less good name for a transport company than East Anglian Logistics.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Although I go along with Juliet in that a badly named company might provide as good a service or product as one that is easily remembered, it might just be a rose we would never smell. What do you think?

© Jon Stow 2010

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